Until now, gene editing has relied on cell division to propagate modifications made with techniques like CRISPR Cas9. Researchers at the Salk Institute have devised a new method that can modify the genes of non-dividing cells (the majority of adult cells). They demonstrated the method’s potential by inserting missing genes into the brains of young mice that were blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. After the team inserted fully functional copies of the damaged gene responsible for the condition into the relevant visual neurons, the mice experience rudimentary vision.
Team leader Izpisua Belmonte says of the new method, homology-independent targeted integration (HITI), “We now have a technology that allows us to modify the DNA of non-dividing cells, to fix broken genes in the brain, heart and liver. It allows us for the first time to be able to dream of curing diseases that we couldn’t before, which is exciting.”
While the team, naturally and appropriately, envisions therapeutic uses, could this method be used to modify brain function non-therapeutically, to improve normal functioning, for example?
Good discussion that covered a lot of ground. I took away that none of us have signed on to be early adopters of brain augmentations, but some expect development of body and brain augmentations to continue and accelerate. We also considered the idea of bio-engineered and medical paths to significant life-span, health, and cognitive capacity improvements. I appreciated the ethical and value questions (Why pursue any of this? What would/must one give up to become transhuman? Will the health and lifespan enhancements be equally available to all? What could be the downsides of extremely extended lives?) Also, isn’t there considerable opportunity for smarter transhumans, along with AI tools, to vastly improve the lives of many people by finding ways to mitigate problems we’ve inherited (disease, etc.) and created (pollution, conflict, etc.)?
All bodily capacities, including the most impressive, uniquely human cognitive and metacognitive ones, coevolve with regulatory mechanisms. Regulatory mechanisms operate unconsciously, and control the expression of associated capacities such that the latter consistently operate with high effectiveness and efficiency to promote replication of our genes. So, to fundamentally change and render socioecologically sustainable the human species, H+ technologies will somehow have to alter the deep neural relationship between these regulatory “value systems,” (sensu neuroscientist Gerald Edelman in, “A Universe of Consciousness”), residing primarily in the limbic system, and all our mundane or enhanced corticothalamic activities. We need H+ that radically diminishes our transparent penchant for evolutionarily adaptive self-deception, and that alters our power to more freely and consciously choose, moment-to-moment, what we do with our cognitive capacities. I suspect current H+ is blind to this. — Warmly, PJW